Yesterdays’ regular season finale may have been the most compelling day of regular season baseball in history.
The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays came into the day tied in the standings with their eyes set on the American League wild card spot. The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals were essentially in the same exact situation, only they were gunning for the National League wild card.
The stage was set and baseball fans around the world had their eyes permanently fixed on four teams playing four separate games and desperately vying for the final two postseason spots.
Aided by Chris Carpenter’s complete-game shutout, the Cardinals took care of business in swift and convincing fashion, defeating the uninspired last-place Houston Astros 8-0. Atlanta, now needing a win in order to force a one-game playoff, blew a 3-2 lead in the ninth to Philadelphia and eventually lost in 13 innings by a score of 4-3.
As a result, the Cardinals completed their improbable comeback in the standings and ousted a once formidable and championship contending Braves team. Atlanta led St. Louis by 10.5 games on August 25 and 8.5 games on September 5.
This was just the start of the day’s dramatics. The reeling Red Sox kindly took some of the heat and attention away from the shell-shocked Braves by somehow managing to one-up their collapse.
At one point, the Red Sox led 3-2 during a rain delay in the middle of the seventh in their contest against the Baltimore Orioles. During the rain delay, the Yankees were routing Tampa by a score of 7-0 in the bottom of the eighth inning.
At this moment, it seemed Boston was bound for the playoffs and would avoid one of the most stunning collapses in baseball history. Losing 7-0 to the Yankees with six outs remaining, it was exceedingly unlikely the Rays would mount a comeback. The Red Sox, for seemingly the first time all September, could take a deep breath.
In an improbable turn of events, however, Tampa’s offense erupted for six runs in the eighth, including a three-run blast by Evan Longoria that cut the Yankee lead to just one. With two outs in the ninth and facing a two-strike count, Dave Johnson, who had one home run all season and was batting .108, belted a game-tying line drive off the right-field foul pole, forcing extra innings.
Boston took their 3-2 lead to the ninth, handing the ball and fate of the season to reliable closer Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon, however, imploded, giving up the game-tying and game-winning runs.
After yet another heart-breaking losss, the disheartened and defeated Red Sox walked off the field uncertain if they would play again this season. Mere minutes later, Evan Longoria erased those uncertainties by hitting a twlefth inning playoff-clinching walk-off laser down the left-field line that barely skimmed over the short porch.
To the delight of many Yankees fans, New York’s blown lead against Tampa played an integral part in eliminating the Red Sox from the playoffs. The loss was meaningless for the Yankees, who had already clinched a playoff spot, the division, and home-field advantage.
Boston held a nine game lead on September 4, making this the largest September collapse in history. The stunning turn of events in both the Red Sox and Rays game was a microcosm of Boston’s abysmal 7-20 September.